Chemotherapy: What it is, what it does and what to expect

1 Sep

This year’s Pinkwellchick© breast cancer service project is …


Volunteers in six cities across the country will gather on Saturday, September 26th to assemble and to distribute Barb’s Bag™ of Care and Comfort to women diagnosed with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

The contents of the bag are intended to provide these women with items proven beneficial and comforting during chemotherapy treatments, like a warm blanket & plush socks (it’s COLD in treatment rooms!), a personal pillow (why not have your own), a Pinkwellchick® journal, hypoallergenic lotion, puzzle books, soothing candies, relaxing potpourri and more.

The Barb’s Bag™ also comes with an EXCLUSIVE streaming video access code to view the poignant, funny and informative play LIFE in the CANCER LANE by our founder, the late Barbra Watson-Riley.

Gift Barb’s Bag™ to a woman in need now.

Gift a bag, bless a life!

We choose to focus on bringing care, comfort and relief to women during chemo because it is such a critical but challenging step in the journey to overcome breast cancer. You may know some general information about chemotherapy (aka chemo). But just what IS it? Why and when is it used? And what are the side effects? Read on.

Source: The American Cancer Society

Chemotherapy for breast cancer

Chemotherapy (chemo) is treatment with cancer-killing drugs that may be given intravenously (injected into a vein) or by mouth. The drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells in most parts of the body. Chemo is given in cycles, with each period of treatment followed by a recovery period. Treatment usually lasts for several months.

When is chemotherapy used?

There are several situations in which chemo may be recommended.

After surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy): When therapy is given to patients with no evidence of cancer after surgery, it is called adjuvant therapy. Surgery is used to remove all of the cancer that can be seen, but adjuvant therapy is used to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind or spread but can’t be seen, even on imaging tests. If these cells are allowed to grow, they can establish new tumors in other places in the body. Adjuvant therapy after breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy reduces the risk of breast cancer coming back. Radiation, chemo, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy can all be used as adjuvant treatments.

Before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy): Neoadjuvant therapy is like adjuvant therapy, except you get the treatments (or at least start them) before surgery instead of after. In terms of survival and the cancer coming back, there is no difference between getting chemo before or after surgery. But neoadjuvant chemo does have two benefits. More info

For advanced breast cancer: Chemo can also be used as the main treatment for women whose cancer has spread outside the breast and underarm area, either when it is diagnosed or after initial treatments. The length of treatment depends on whether the cancer shrinks, how much it shrinks, and how well you tolerate treatment.

How is chemotherapy given?

In most cases (especially adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment), chemo is most effective when combinations of more than one drug are used. Many combinations are being used, and it’s not clear that any single combination is clearly the best. Clinical studies continue to compare today’s most effective treatments against something that may be better.

The most common chemo drugs used for early breast cancer include the anthracyclines (such as doxorubicin/Adriamycin® and epirubicin/Ellence®) and the taxanes (such as paclitaxel/Taxol® and docetaxel/Taxotere®). These may be used in combination with certain other drugs, like fluorouracil (5-FU), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®), and carboplatin. More info

Possible side effects

Chemo drugs work by attacking cells that are dividing quickly, which is why they work against cancer cells. But other cells in the body, like those in the bone marrow, the lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles, also divide quickly. These cells are also likely to be affected by chemo, which can lead to side effects. Some women have many side effects; others may only have few.

Chemo side effects depend on the type of drugs, the amount taken, and the length of treatment. Some of the most common possible side effects include:

  • Hair loss and nail changes
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood cell counts

Chemo can affect the blood forming cells of the bone marrow, which can lead to:

  • Increased chance of infections (from low white blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
  • Fatigue (from low red blood cell counts and other reasons)

These side effects usually last a short time and go away after treatment is finished. It’s important to tell your health care team if you have any side effects, as there are often ways to lessen them. For example, drugs can be given to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.

Other side effects are also possible. Some of these are more common with certain chemo drugs. Your cancer care team will tell you about the possible side effects of the specific drugs you are getting. More info

Gift Barb’s Bag™ to a woman in need now.

Gift a bag, bless a life!

How can you get involved to support Bag It™ for the Cause?


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